Doctors use the word psychosis to describe times when you experience reality markedly differently to most other people and you are out of touch with reality.
No two people experience psychosis in exactly the same way. The nature of your experience, its intensity and how much it distresses you and the people around you can vary a great deal.
The most common ways that people experience psychosis are:
You may have all of these, or one. You may feel them just once for a brief time, or they may be part of the way you are.
If you are experiencing psychosis, you may be unaware of it and may believe that what you are feeling is real. The people around you may try to tell you that they are worried and it may be hard for you to believe them. This is called losing insight.
Not everyone is distressed by these experiences: you may welcome hearing a familiar or supportive voice, or seeing a much-loved face, for example. Many people hear voices at some point in their lives and it is not always a sign of being ill.
However, if you are distressed and feel you cannot cope, you should seek help from someone you trust or a doctor.
If you know someone who seems to be experiencing psychosis and you are concerned for their well-being and safety, even if they are not, you should also seek help for them.
You should seek help urgently if you hear voices telling you to harm yourself or someone else.
Psychosis isn’t an illness in itself – and for some people it is an entirely positive experience – but it may be caused by a condition, disorder, injury or event and may be hard to live with.
For example, people diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder may well experience psychosis. Psychosis may also be caused by alcohol and drugs, brain injury or a personality disorder.
You may experience psychosis in response to a major stressful event such as bereavement or giving birth.
If you are concerned by what you are feeling, do seek help: we can help you to understand and cope with what is happening, and in many cases to make a full recovery.
The British Psychological Society: Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia
Mind: about psychosis
Rethink: about psychosis
Royal College of Psychiatrists: information for carers